Role-playing: Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd Edition

It’s been a busy week, so I don’t have a proper review of anything at the moment. Instead, I figured I’d take a moment to highlight an RPG I enjoy that I’ve been running for almost 2 years.

Warhammer Fantasy

Warhammer Fantasy started as a tabletop wargame pitching fantasy races against one another. If you’ve ever been to a tabletop game store, you’ve probably seen the painted miniatures of dwarves, orcs, and human knights. What was very forward thinking of them was that even in the 1st edition printed in 1983 they included a set of rules for role-playing, advancing characters, and creating a campaign. This wasn’t the official 1st edition of the RPG but laid the groundwork.

2nd Edition Role-playing Game

I won’t go into exhaustive detail about the rules, the short version is that it’s similar to D&D with a few major differences:

  • Percentile Dice
    WFRPG uses a percentile system which is a ten-sided with 0-9 and a “percentile” die that has 00-90. When rolled together, you get results from 1-100 (0 00 being treated as 100). Character attributes are presented as % and you need to roll equal to or lower to succeed whatever action you are taking.
  • Career System
    Instead of classes with loads of abilities, features, and spells that you mostly locked into once you’ve created your character, in Warhammer, you select a starting career which gives you some skills, talents, and starting items. Career talents can function a bit like abilities and features of D&D but are generally much simpler. But the biggest difference is that you will grow within your career until you finish and can move into a new career, opening new options to grow and customize your character. Careers are split into basic and advanced, though even within advanced there is a third tier that requires a completed advanced career to select it.
  • Grimdark
    Lastly, the setting of Warhammer is often referred to as “grimdark” which just means that it’s a darker, more violent fantasy setting where life is difficult, there generally aren’t many clear heroes, and where corruption and the fall of modern society are major themes. Classic Warhammer still mixes things up with some humor, usually from goblins and orcs, but there are a variety of colorful characters.

Our Campaign

I had wanted to play Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd Edition for some time, but I don’t have a group in my area (and probably would have been terrified to play in person anyway). As I got into online communities, namely boardgamegeek and its sister site, RPGGeek, I decided to try something as a play-by-forum. Warhammer was not my first game, but it was the first I had ever ran as the game master. To keep things simple, we tried one of the pre-made adventures, “Pretty Things” that comes in the Game Master’s Guide. The player characters are Gottri the dwarf Runebearer, Imloryth the elf Mercenary, and two humans, Heinz the Jailer and Dittrich the Zealot. It was a hit and we continued on.

In “Pretty Things,” the PCs (player-characters) get caught up in a kidnapping after coming across some bodies on the road. When they find the kidnappers, they are dead after being ambushed by goblins. The PCs then trek into the forest to fight the goblins. After a brief skirmish, the PCs rescue a young girl and have to reach a nearby small town to return her to her family. Along the way, goblins chase them and stalk them at night. When the PCs arrive in town, they learn that the girl is the secret daughter to the local Baron who tried to hide her from political rivals, however there isn’t much of a happy ending. The man is already dead and the girl left with the former steward.

Arrival in Wurtbad

After the pre-made adventure, the PCs head for the nearest full town, Wurtbad. Along the way, they meet a roadwarden, Ulrich, who is investigating a death near the road. He enlists the PCs and they track blood and footprints to a hut in the woods. They find a slain witch hunter and some strange clues. They take the body back to Wurtbad to have it looked over in the Temple of Morr. The PCs take their clues and start asking around town to discover who lives in the hut in the woods. Once they discover the man’s identity, they narrow down places he might be hiding in town and catch him at the local butchery. After a battle in the market in which the man, Hilger, transformed into a winged werewolf, the PCs are rewarded for their work tracking and slaying the Chaos-plagued man.

The market fight against the transformed Hilger.

The Well and Jail

While getting some needed rest at an inn, The Plough and Spade, the PCs wake in the night to strange sounds. They go out back to find a well that has no water, and at the bottom are tunnels in the dark. In the morning, they learn that the well recently dried up and the inn-keeper wants them to find out what happened, as many businesses rely on the well. The PCs get some supplies in town and prepare to descend into the darkness. In the tunnels, they soon come across traps, find an underground lake where the water has been drained to, and are then ambushed by ratmen: The Skaven.

Skirmish in the skaven tunnels.

The ambush leaves the party in bad shape with their elf in need of serious healing. However, once they get back to the surface, they are arrested for suspicion of consorting with Chaos. They are taken to jail where they wait for a trial. However, after days of waiting, even two of them contracting an annoying disease, they are set free. Their accuser has ran out of town and vanished. The case is dropped. However, the guards quietly confiscate the skaven heads and pay the PCs some hush money.

Corruption of Wurtbad

Now freed, the PCs have some options. Return to the tunnels to try and deal with the skaven threat head-on, follow a lead that the roadwarden Ulrich has uncovered while they were in jail, or go to the local count, Alberich Haupt-Anderssen, and warn him about the skaven activity and suspicious goings-on. They decide to go to the count, but he plays coy with them and refuses to believe in ratmen living beneath the town. The PCs start talking around town to learn more, and find out about some suspicious behavior regarding the count. A woman has seen him skulking around the docks by the river late at night, picking up a package and leaving alone. The PCs hatch a plan to catch him in the act, and late at night follow him into a secret tunnel where they catch him with a box of warpstone, and he spills the beans. He’s been in league with the skaven, supposedly trying to save Wurtbad and buy them time, but has in the meantime been lining his pockets and done nothing to stop them. The PCs enlist an older roadwarden, Wolfram, who helps devise a plan. They will round up the guards in the morning with whatever roadwardens are on hand and storm the tunnels. Ulrich was supposed to meet the PCs to catch the count, but he ended up following the lead they left hanging. He will be back in the morning with his roadwardens and can join the assault.

Fires in the Night

The PCs return to the inn for rest but decide to set a watch, now paranoid that someone might come after them. In the early hours before dawn, one of them hears a noise and they find a skaven running across the roofs. Checking the area for more, they see a fire blazing across town, the count’s manor. There, Wolfram informs them that the skaven attacked the manor after the count failed to make his delivery. Count Alberich was injured and taken to the town’s physician with a couple guards as escort. The PCs rush to catch up, fearing the skaven might make another attempt to attack the count. They are proven correct, seeing the skaven running along the rooftops, heading towards the count. The PCs arrive first and prepare for battle.

That’s where we are now. And things are heating up! We’re close to finishing this lengthy adventure which has its ups and downs.

Playing in a PBF

For play-by-forum, the game moves much slower than it would face-to-face (FtF). An adventure that you could complete in 1 or 2 sessions can take 2 or more months to finish in PBF. A full adventure that takes 4+ sessions can take up to a year, and some campaigns have been going for several years without hitting end game levels.

Due to this pacing, the amount of details in your stories has a limit. Players can only remember so much between sessions in FtF playing, this is worsened when a scene takes a week to play out and the adventure takes months. Regular recaps can help a lot, which is something a lot of people do in FtF as well. But even then, complex story arcs that cross multiple adventures is extremely difficult in PBF because you’re talking a year or more to tell one singular story. In the future, we’ll probably be focusing more on isolated adventures.

Another thing, which is more for the players to think about, is the actual role-playing. If a conversation can take days, player interactions have to be more focused on the events rather than side banter. It seems most players already accept this when going into PBF, but it’s still a major point that changes how the game is played. Long backstories are largely irrelevant because it would take a lot more time to explore it.

And one thing that every PBF game eventually faces, something that even FtF games have to deal with, is waning interest. People get busy, step away from the game, and it can be a challenge just getting them back in. I’ve yet to prematurely close one of my own PBF games, but it’s come perilously close. Persistence in the GM is important. You have to motivate yourself to continue. If you’re not having fun, your players aren’t likely to have any either, and the game is doomed. It’s critical to unravel what it is that’s not fun, what keeps people from coming back. Sometimes, you might find that something in the game, even how you run it, needs to change. Or maybe it is time to close the game and move on.

On the plus side, because of the slow pacing of a PBF, the GM has WAY more time to plot story and scenes. I only need a rough outline of where the adventure might go, then fill in details only as we approach them. I don’t need to plan 4 hours at a time, I comparatively only need about 20 minutes planned because in between playing, I have a day or two to fill in the details. Many events in our campaign weren’t planned beforehand and were a response to something the players said or did; often times rewarding them with the thing they expected. An RPG should be collaborative, but your players won’t always realize how much they’ve influenced things. They go check around a corner where, in your notes, nothing exists, but you then fill in something—a detail, extra cash, an item, a clue—to reward the player for checking anyway. Even the upcoming battle wasn’t planned!

Resources

Our whole campaign as it’s been played is on RPGGeek here:
Warhammer RPG Campaign

To check out Warhammer Fantasy, either the 2nd Edition we’re playing or the new 4th Edition by Cubicle 7, you can find the PDFs here:
Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd Edition
Warhammer Fantasy RPG 4th Edition

I’ve also finished a mini-campaign in a game called Fear Itself, which is part of the GUMSHOE series of investigative RPGs:
The Fox Sketch (Fear Itself)
And I’m finishing up a one-shot (basically, a short adventure for PBF) of Symbaroum:
The Darkness of Davokar (Symbaroum)

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